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Ranching Traditions

Where to experience ranching traditions
Santa Cruz Valley residents and visitors can learn about the long history of ranching in this region, and experience working ranches, by visiting the Empire Ranch in the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area and La Posta Quemada Ranch at Colossal Cave Mountain Park near Tucson.

Pima County is restoring historic ranch buildings and developing interpretive exhibits at Canoa Ranch, and Arizona State Parks is restoring the historic Cameron ranch house at the new San Rafael State Park.

The Ranchers' Heritage Center in Nogales’s historic courthouse presents exhibits about the history of ranching in this region. The Sonoita Quarter Horse Show showcases the most famous horse breed of this region. The rodeo traditions of the Santa Cruz Valley are celebrated at the annual Fiesta de Los Vaqueros Rodeo and Parade as well as the Sonoita Rodeo, two of the oldest rodeos in the country.   western experiences
Click here for a list of western experience day trips!

Learn more about heritage foods of the Santa Cruz Valley, including locally raised grass-fed beef, here. 

Check out our Heritage Experiences map to see where else you can experience ranching traditions in the Santa Cruz Valley. 

Ranching Traditions
Since the introduction by Spaniards of cattle, horses, and other livestock into the Santa Cruz Valley in the late 1600s, ranching and farming have continued to be two mainstays of the rural economy for more than 300 years. Most of the earliest cattle ranches were established at mission communities, but to attract settlers to the area, and thereby increase productivity in the region, the Spanish and Mexican governments also offered substantial land grants. Unfortunately, few settlers actually lived on their land grants for long due to the ongoing threat of Apache attacks. Instead, many ranchers lived in military or mission communities for defense, only venturing out occasionally to visit their ranches and check on their livestock.

This pattern of settlement and ranching persisted until the American Territorial period, when American and Mexican ranchers established new ranches and homesteads throughout the region, often sharing labor and mutual assistance. Today, the interplay of Hispanic, American, Mexican, and Native American ranching continues this historical and living tradition, providing a link to the past and to the future.

Deeply rooted in the Spanish Colonial, Mexican, and American Territorial periods, ranching has been the primary land use of the Santa Cruz Valley for 300 years, whether along the actual course of the Santa Cruz River or along its tributaries and mountain uplands. Ranching today persists as testimony to those Spanish missionaries who introduced cattle, horses, and other livestock, Hispanic and Mexican settlers who established land grant ranches, American families who homesteaded lands that continue in family ownership today, and to all those who endured the many hardships of ranching on the frontier in a harsh environment.

Descendants of these explorers, pioneer settlers, adventurers, soldiers, and even the descendants of Spanish horses and cattle, continue a living tradition and a living landscape in the Santa Cruz Valley that is like no other.

Read about the Ranching Traditions theme in the feasbility study.


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